A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative
nutrition

The Canola Oil Controversy

Posted April 26, 2016

In our recent Club Red cooking classes, we’ve addressed many questions about cooking oils, especially related to the safety and health benefits of canola oil. Apparently, this isn’t just a local concern. If you Google “canola oil,” you’ll find all kinds of articles on which oils are better for you. But keep in mind that the authors of these articles aren’t always the experts they present themselves to be. At Club Red, we’re fortunate enough to have a dietitian we can turn to with these dietary dilemmas! Here, Katherine Basbaum, MS, RD weighs in on the pros and cons of canola:

A Little Background

Canola Oil was developed by Canadian scientists in the 1970s. Its name is a contraction of Canadian and Ola (meaning oil.) It comes from the rapeseed, a bright-yellow flowering member of the Brassicaceae (cabbage or mustard) family. Historically, rapeseed oil contained dangerously high levels of erucic acid.

Misconceptions About Canola Oil

Canola oil is toxic!

The high erucic acid content in traditional rapeseed has been linked with structural changes in heart tissues. But canola oil begins with seeds that have been specifically bred to be very low in erucic acid. International standards require that canola oil must contain a level of erucic acid that is <2 percent of total fatty acids; most of the rapeseed crop produced in the world today contains a much lower level than legally required.

It’s genetically engineered!

This is true. Approximately 93 percent of canola in the U.S. is genetically engineered. This genetic engineering has been used to provide the plants with tolerance to specific herbicides.

It’s used as a pesticide and to make soap!

Yes, canola oil is used industrially, but the same can be said of any other vegetable oil. And when canola is used in place of other materials, it is generally considered to be an environmentally friendly alternative.

What You May Not Know

Canola oil contains ten times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in extra virgin olive oil (1.3 grams versus 0.10 grams per tablespoon).

Compared to other vegetable oils on the market, canola oil contains the lowest levels of artery-clogging, bad cholesterol-reducing saturated fats.

Canola and olive oil contain similar amounts of vitamin E and vitamin K.

Canola oil is very high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), similar to the amount present in extra virgin olive oil.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed a health claim for canola stating that a possible health benefit from its use in the amount of 1.5 tablespoons per day might lead to reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Canola Oil is a GRAS substance, meaning it is Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA. In order to be granted the GRAS status, the scientific data and information about the use of a substance must be widely known and there must be a consensus among qualified experts that the substance is safe under the conditions of its intended use.

The Bottom Line

Current research tells us that canola oil is safe to consume.

From a cardiac health perspective, it is a powerhouse thanks to an abundance of omega-3, poly and mono-unsaturated fats.

From a practical/culinary standpoint, canola oil has a light flavor, high smoke point (400-435 degrees) and smooth texture, making it one of the most versatile cooking oils.

If you like the idea of canola oil, but GE products are a concern for you, choose certified organic canola oil.

If refined oils are a concern for you, opt for extra virgin olive oil (but be wary of lower smoke point and stronger flavor).

Take a look at our recipe library for ideas for incorporating canola oil into a variety of dishes.

 

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